THE BLOG

Keeping the Bigger Nutrition Picture in Mind

30/07/2015 18:14 BST | Updated 29/07/2016 10:59 BST

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear a tone of frustration in my writing yet again! I seek to balance the almost daily news stories of what we should or should not be including in our diet. I don't think there's anyone over the age of 40 [I declare I have a vested interest now!] who doesn't think about eating a little better to try and ward off ill health. If you're at risk of heart disease or just focused on living a healthy lifestyle chances are, at some stage you'll get your cholesterol checked - and if it's high hands up who'll toy with the egg-white only craze?

Hmm - quite a lot of us!

But the truth is, cholesterol is just one of many factors that play a critical role in health. And despite egg yolks containing cholesterol, eating them alone won't have much effect at all on the level of cholesterol in your blood. By focusing on avoiding only one or two things in our diet, we're really missing the point. We could also be missing out on opportunities to improve the "whole picture" of our overall health and wellness. After all, those egg yolks that we might mistakenly banish from our plates also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fat, including Omega-3-- an important nutrient that we're all probably not getting enough of!

I've been researching this lately - and thought I'd share my findings!

The human body is astounding and can make most of the types of the fat it needs on its own. However, our bodies CAN'T create Omega fatty acids. We have to get those as part of our diet, it's why they're classed as essential fatty acids, they are essential in our diets. Now, bear with me, here comes the science!

Two Omega fatty acids you hear most about are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They differ from each other mainly in their chemical structure and where they're found in our diets. In modern diets, Omega-6 fatty acids are widely available in vegetable oils but there are only a few good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, mainly oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Our body needs Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids to be balanced in order to maximize the potential benefits from two critical Omega-3 fatty acids, (Eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and Docosahexaenoic or DHA). These help support blood and immune cells.

Omega-3 fats have also been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke and could play protective roles in other conditions. [Here's the science, again] - They help keep

• triglyceride levels down,

• keep "good" cholesterol up s

• And "bad" cholesterol down.

So Omega-3 is good stuff! But, guess what? We are consuming more Omega-6 fatty acids than we should! In fact, our average British diet has an Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of 1:10, whereas the recommended ratio is 1:3 .s

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The British Dietetic Association (BDA) recommends eating two portions of fish a week, of which, one should be oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel. However, since there is no specific recommendation of a dose for Omega-3 for the general population, it is extremely difficult to understand if you are consuming enough of the right Omegas. Learning how to keep these levels in check is a step in the right direction for heart health. But how do we know?

Now, as many of you readers know, I am a member of the Global Nutrition and Health Alliance (GNHA), which has come together to elevate the science around supplements to our diets. Fellow GNHA Co-founder and Cardiologist Dr. Clemens von Schacky, has created an Omega-3 Index. He shared his research with me and it made me think about Omega-3 deficiencies, especially here in the U.K. The Omega-3 Index is a measure of Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA in red blood cells, which relates to risk for heart disease. It is easily measured through a simple blood test to determine whether or not your Omega-3 levels are in-range - a very quick heads up to let you know if you are at a higher risk for complications such as heart disease.

If you want to make sure you're eating plenty of Omega-3 rich foods, check out my list of the top Omega-3 food sources.

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As well as oily fish, Omega-3 fatty acids occur naturally in some plant foods. Good sources are found in rapeseed, linseed (also known as flaxseed), soybean oils and spreads made from these oils, ground linseeds, soya bean products (such as tofu), walnuts and meat and organic milk from grass-fed animals. Small amounts are found in green leafy vegetables. Then there is a whole array of functional food products that are enriched with Omega-3s.

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If you are stuck and wonder how on earth you are going to include Omega-3s into your diet, here are a few practical ideas:

• Eat fish twice a week and make sure one serving is a good source of Omega-3.

• Choose rapeseed oil for food preparation and salad dressings

• Many vegetable oils contain rapeseed as the main ingredient, but you do have to read the label

• You could also use walnut, soya and linseed oil in food preparation

  • Look out for spreads that contain ALA
  • Eat walnuts as a snack or add to salads
  • Ground linseeds are available on the shelves and can be used in baking (e.g. breads and muffins), added to porridge and can also be sprinkled on cereals, salads and soups

But, I see many patients in my clinic who are leading hectic, busy lifestyles and are time poor. And, of course a lot people just don't enjoy eating fish.

So what is my advice? Try to change your diet as above - but if you are deficient or can't or won't eat fish or other food sources high in Omega-3, then supplements will help bridge those nutrient gaps". Nutrient deficiency is serious and can even be life threatening. But it's also easily preventable.

So, let's all take one step towards including more Omega-3 in our daily diets. We owe it to ourselves - and our bodies - to be better patients and make healthy choices. .

For more information on the Omega-3 Index visit the News & Resources section at www.globalnutritionhealth.org